The Legal Advocate

A blog brought to you by the national institute for trial advocacy

Monthly Archives: July 2012

Finch, Gambini & Freud, LLC

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Written by Guest Blogger: Judge Robert McGahey. 

I love movies. And I love movies about the law. (TV shows, too.) And from teaching at programs around the country, I know I’m not the only one. For years, I’ve used film and TV in ethics presentations at various NITA programs. (Huge props here to Mark Caldwell, my frequent cohort in those presentations And even gets huger props to Mark for doing all the technical stuff to create those presentations.) I’ve volunteered to write an occasional column about trial work, movies and TV. My goals: to get you to see these movies or shows if you haven’t seen them, to maybe make you think about them in a different way, and perhaps to start a dialogue with other cinephiles in the NITA family.

That said, let’s start with the best and most obvious place: To Kill a Mockingbird (Universal Pictures, 1962.). Mockingbird consistently ranks first on lists of best movies about the law, whether those lists are put together by lawyers or non-lawyers; it properly led off the ABA Journal’s list of the 25 Greatest Legal Movies in 2008. It’s a movie that deals with difficult questions: race, mental illness, the difficulties of childhood and the struggles of parenting. It’s a film that rewards watching and re-watching. But there is one reason, above all others, to watch this film. What is it?

The answer is simple: Gregory Peck’s Oscar-winning performance as Atticus Finch. When the American Film Institute put together its list of Greatest Movie Heroes and Villains in 2003, Finch was voted the Greatest Movie Hero of the 20th Century. (Hannibal Lecter was the Greatest Villain.) Think about that: in a country where lawyers are not always popular – to put it mildly – a lawyer is our greatest movie hero. The accolade is well-deserved.

Atticus Finch is a small-town lawyer in rural Alabama in the ‘30’s, asked to defend an African-American against an accusation of sexual assault on a white woman. Has there ever been a more sure-fire losing case? Given the atmosphere surrounding the case, Finch endangers not only himself but his two children as well. Yet his defense of Tom Robinson is not perfunctory, not just going through the motions. It is aggressive, but principled. It is passionate, but not emotional. Most of all, it is not only brave, but noble. It is, in short, the essence of what it means to be an advocate. I teach Trial Advocacy classes at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and when I show my frequently cynical law students Finch’s closing argument in class, even those who’ve seen it before sit stunned by its power. I then tell them gently: “If you want to know what lawyers do, that’s what lawyers do.”

But, given the title of this column, let’s turn to another beloved movie lawyer: Vincent Gambini (played by Joe Pesci) in My Cousin Vinny (20th Century Fox, 1992.) Atticus and Vinny have some things in common.

No, really.

Both Finch and Gambini take on apparently hopeless cases with defendants who are marginalized — or flat out rejected – by the community. Both mount aggressive defenses (although Finch’s is based on knowledge and principle and Vinny’s is based on bluster and bravado.) Neither of them gives up, even in the face of overwhelming odds (although Finch’s persistence is based on bravery and Vinny’s is based on stupidity.) Both conduct effective and telling cross examinations of witnesses who are key to the case.

But of course, there are differences between them, too. And it’s the differences that make lawyers love them both. Here you’ll have to indulge my dipping into analysis as it might be made by the third partner in my mythical firm – Sigmund Freud.

I’d like to suggest that lawyers love Vinny because he’s a lawyer’s Id: he has no filter. Vinny does and says everything in court that we wish we could say, but don’t have the chutzpah. Two examples spring most readily to mind: his response to a critical comment about his clothes from Judge Haller (played by the great Fred Gwynne): “You were serious about that?” (which gets him held in contempt and sent to the county lockup.) And the never-to-be-forgotten opening statement: “Everything that guy just said was b*******t.” Ask any trial lawyer – or any trial judge for that matter: every lawyer has wanted to make both of those statements in court and on the record.

But if Vinny is a lawyer’s Id, Atticus Finch is a lawyer’s Superego, our conscience. Finch does and says everything we know we should say and should do in court, but don’t have the courage to do and say. It’s that level of moral courage that makes Atticus Finch every trial lawyer’s role model. It’s that model we should hold in our hearts when we face a difficult case. After all, “advocate” comes from the Latin: “to be called to speak for.” And Atticus Finch shows us exactly what that means.

Kay Dragon’s Break-a-Thon for Blue Sky Bridge

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In March our Senior Director of Finance, Kay Dragon, earned her conditional black belt in Karate. One of the things she had to do in order to achieve this honor was a community service project, and a Board Break-A-Thon was Kay’s service project of choice.

The Board Break-a-Thon was on Wednesday, March 14th at Success Martial Arts, and aimed to help ‘Break the Cycle of Child Abuse.’ The board-breaking took place from 6:15-7:30pm. Proceeds went to Blue Sky Bridge, a local non-profit child and family advocacy program that provides forensic interviews for child victims and crisis support for their non-offending family members.

Kay invited the NITA Family to join in the board breaking and fundraising for this wonderful organization. We received an email explaining the event:

  1. You can come and break boards! If you have never broken a board, we will teach you how. Don’t worry; it’s not hard at all and quite cool to hear that crack.
  2. Every $5 in donations earns you a board. The more you donate, the more boards you get to break!
  3. You can sponsor me toward my goal. Our team goal is to raise $3,500. My personal goal is to raise $350.

There are two ways to donate: Write a check to ‘Blue Sky Bridge’ (or donate cash), or donate directly on their web page ( – please be sure to put SMA and my name in the comments section).

After the Break-A-Thon it was time for Kay to earn her black belt!

Kay’s team did 10 weeks of intense training together, culminating with this test. The photo below shows Kay and her class at about 1pm Saturday the 10th, after 19 hours of straight testing (Kay confirmed that most of the middle-of-the-night stuff seemed more like a middle school lock–in). Further complicating things for Kay was a fractured toe–she completely broke her big toe just nine days before the event.

One interesting aspect of their little team is that the ages range from 8 to 55; team members include a father-son duo and a team of two nieces and their aunt. There will be more to come on this story as Kay will be testing for her certified black belt September 7-8th.

Minutes after Kay’s class earned their conditional black belts!

In total, Kay’s team raised $3,793 (and counting!). NITA employees contributed $170 to the cause.

If you’d like to learn more about Blue Sky Bridge, please visit their website at, or email the group’s contact, Nia Wassink, at She attended the event and was a real trooper, even breaking a board.

New Email Check List from Litmus

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While technology and online trend continuously advance and change, there is one trend that has remained relatively stable since its invention: email. For marketing efforts email continues to be the leading method of effective outreach. By now, most firms have incorporated a reoccurring email newsletter into their marketing plans, but they all face a similar challenge: making that email look good. There are so many email clients out there that all render emails their own way that developing your newsletter can become laborious. Luckily, there are some excellent tools out there to help with this process.

Litmus, one of the industry’s leading email rendering web services (and our personal favorite), recently developed a new free tool that anyone can use called the “Email Checklist“.

This easy-to-use tool allows you to copy and paste your HTML into a code box, where it is then analyzed. Litmus scans the HTML to see if you’ve missed anything from what they call the “Best Practices” list, which includes these 7 elements:

  1. Web Version
  2. Link Paths
  3. Image Height and Width Specification
  4. Image Paths
  5. Image Alt Attributes
  6. Preview Text
  7. Title

Once the analysis is completed, the results page gives you a template to work from with information on issues you may need to fix or address. This is something that we have already incorporated into our workflow for creating emails and we highly recommend it to our partners in the industry.

You can read more about the tool on the Litmus Blog.

Donor Thanks – Your Support is Vital

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The NITA Foundation would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to its donors. Each year NITA continues to advance its mission of training lawyers to become more skilled in providing ethical and competent advocacy. Through our programs we have seen many lives change for the better and we thank our wonderful donors for helping to make that possible. Listed below are 1st and 2nd quarter 2012 donors.


Todd Bailey
Mark Birk
Lori Borgen
Leslie Carothers
Doris Cheng
James E. Coleman
Richard T. Cozzola
Michael Dale
Andrew Deiss
Randy Dickhut
Hon. Wallace Dixon
John Douglass
Bruce Fest
M. Albert Figinski
Adrienne Fox
Michael Ginsberg
Robert Hildum
Doug and Carolyn Irish
Edward Kancler
Michael Kelly
Robert and Pamela Krupka
Robert Linton
Wee Chong Low
Michael Martinez
Lauren Meller
Griselle Molina
Charlie Morton
Patricia Oster
Thomas Reilly
Mark Risk
Leo and Robin Romero
Ben Rubinowitz
Joan Saltzman
Andrew Schepard
Elizabeth Sher
Fletcher Smith
Glenn Stern
Lisa Talbot
Diana Terry
Gary Williams


American College of Trial Lawyers Foundation (ACTL)
Bachus & Schanker Cares Foundation
Cozen O’Connor Foundation
International Academy of Trial Lawyers (IATL)
International Society of Barristers
State Bar of New Mexico
Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell LLP

To learn more about joining our family of donors and sponsors, please call the Foundation office or visit us online at Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of our donor list. However, if you note that your name was misspelled or omitted, please accept our sincerest apologies and inform us by calling (303) 953-6845 or by e-mailing

Harry Zimmerman, Communication Specialist Highlight

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Harry Zimmerman has worked with NITA as a Communication Specialist for the past three years.  Harry has worked with the Building Trial Skills: Pacific Program in San Diego in 2010 and 2011.  In June 2012 he assisted with the Building Trial Skills: Western Program in San Francisco.  He plans to participate again in October with the San Diego program.  He has backgrounds in law, acting, and directing.  If you are looking for a Communication Specialist for your program, he comes highly recommended and is willing to travel to programs.

Harry Zimmerman has 30 years of experience as a trial and appellate practitioner. He has tried more than 100 jury cases in the New Mexico state courts and handled hundreds of appeals from the California courts. When not teaching, acting, or directing, he operates a one-man trial and appellate practice in Albuquerque.

For more information about Harry’s stage career, read what he had below:

Directing Bio: “Speed The Plow”, 2012

A mere actor and Mamet fan, Harry limited himself to directing improvisers and children during his 16-year exile in Southern California.  Since his return to the Duke City in 2005, he has limited his directing efforts to adults.  His most recently directed projects were Out Comes Butch at the Box and the New Mexico premiere of Parted Waters at the North Fourth VSA Center. This is the first time he has directed at the Vortex, where he appeared as an actor almost 30 years ago and several times since, served on the board of directors several years ago, and contributed his hard-earned cash to the very rolling risers your asses are sitting on.  Harry has a genuinely deep affection for this space.  If the asses comment offends you, this show may not be for you.

Acting Bio: 2011

Formally trained at L.A.’s Odyssey Theatre, Kent State University, and San Diego’s Old Globe, Harry has appeared on stage at Old Globe and La Jolla Playhouse theaters in San Diego, the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company in Phoenix, internationally with the Armenian Theatre Company, and in many Albuquerque venues.  Making his first appearance at the Aux Dog, his diverse roles include Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet and Roy Cohn in Angels in America.  Musical and comedy credits include Mushnik in Little Shop of Horrors, Lenny in Rumors and Senex in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.  Film credits include Felon and television work includes Lifetime’s Sex and Lies in Sin City and Doc West for Italian television.  He was last seen as Greg Pierotti and other characters in the world premiere of Laramie Project: 10 Years After with Working Classroom.

NITA’s team of practicing lawyers, professors and judges from around the nation dedicates its efforts to the training and development of skilled and ethical legal advocates to improve the adversarial justice system.

NITA’s Goals are to:

  • Promote justice through effective and ethical advocacy.
  • Train and mentor lawyers to be competent and ethical advocates in pursuit of justice.
  • Develop and teach trial advocacy skills to support and promote the effective and fair administration of justice.
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